This is the second collaboration by director David Cronenberg and actor Viggo Mortensen. "Eastern Promises" has a lot of the same aspects of their previous film "A History of Violence". It involves the Russian mob this time but is still chock full of brutal violence and a very dark and heavy overall atmosphere.
The film takes place in London and follows Anna (Naomi Watts) who is a midwife at a local hospital. Her story begins when an unknown young pregnant girl is rushed into the emergency room. She gives birth to a baby girl, but the mother dies. Intrigued by this woman Anna finds a journal in the girl's purse and takes it home with her. Anna lives with her mother and uncle, both of whom have strong ties to Russia. She gives the journal to her Uncle for translation. They learn that the girl was named Tatiana and lived a very troubled and violent life as a prostitute. Anna also finds an address for a local Russian restaurant/social club called the Trans-Siberian. It's owned by a seemingly nice old man named Semyon. They have a friendly talk about family and the journal she found. Semyon requests to see the journal and has such a way that he is equally comforting and threatening at the same time. He is a very controlling and powerful man in the guise of a sweet old grandfather figure or should I say godfather figure.
Viggo Mortensen plays Nikolai a driver for the "club" but also handles body processing and disposal. He is intense and cold but also calm and professional. When Anna returns to the restaurant with a photocopied version of the journal Semyon is disappointed and requests the actual journal. Anna tries to leave but her motorcycle won't start, Nikolai approaches her and offers her a ride, she hesitates but accepts. Anna has a great line that sums up the major theme of this movie "Sometimes birth and death go together". The connections of Anna as a life-giving midwife and Nikolai a brutal mobster are quite apparent. Anna knows who these people are and how dangerous they can be, but she continues to search out Tatiana's family to save baby Christine and to give her a better life.
Kirill is Seymon's only son and of course, he is a violent drunken idiot who threatens everything his father has worked for. Nikolai sees this and, although he is not a blood relative, he looks to overtake his spot in the family. Some betrayal and infighting ensue which includes the bathhouse scene. Nikolai is set up and must fight off a few hit men while completely nude. Cronenberg's camera doesn't shy away from showing the raw brutality and realism of the encounter. This being said Viggo has always been known for thoroughly researching his roles and inhabiting his characters and this role is no different as his performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
We are told that in the Russian mob a person life is told by their tattoos and Nikolai has several. None more important than the stars he gets over his heart and on his knees in a ceremony attended by several bosses as he becomes a made man. Certain things come to light that spins things around and we begin to look at Nikolai in a whole new way. Anna and Nikolai have an interesting relationship and must work together to achieve a common goal. Without giving away too many spoilers, this is a great movie to search out.